Two Loray Mill village homes relocated as rehabilitation of community continues

A pair of historic Gastonia homes that spent more than a century watching the sun set will now see it rise every day.

In recent weeks, workers removed masonry from the base of the two mill houses on Vance Street and nestled the buildings onto trailers. On Friday, they towed each home from the east to the west side of the street, where foundation bricks will be relaid.

In all, four homes on Vance Street are being relocated within the village around the former Loray Mill. The shift is necessary to make way for the second phase of the mill’s redevelopment.

Moving the dwellings, rather than simply razing them, may seem like a lot of work for properties that are far from ready to be featured in the pages of Southern Living magazine. But it’s all part of a sweeping plan to redevelop homes within the village, and establish a new template for home ownership involving historically significant properties.

“We are creating a new market in the neighborhood,” said Jack Kiser, a project director for the nonprofit Preservation North Carolina. “And core to the market attraction will be the historic character of the homes.”

Preservation N.C.’s mission is to protect and promote buildings and sites that are important to the state’s diverse heritage. It also owned the abandoned Loray Mill before selling it to a developer three years ago, paving the way for a $40 million, Phase 1 residential and commercial redevelopment of the former textile citadel.

With that project having taken flight, it has turned its attention to rehabilitating downtrodden homes nearby. The Loray Mill village once boasted 900 residences, and still has almost 500 homes that have undeniable historical significance.

“It’s absolutely no different than the York Chester Historic District, other than the fact that these are smaller houses and those are bigger houses,” Kiser said of the village’s importance. “We’re a big believer that small houses deserve the same respect.”

Small space, big market

Since last year, Preservation N.C. has worked to acquire homes and properties in the shadow of the mill. It has bought some itself, while others were foreclosed, bank-owned homes that were acquired by the city of Gastonia, then sold to the nonprofit.

The nonprofit currently owns 12 mill village homes and one vacant lot. It plans to redevelop several of them in ways that herald their historic architectural features, while also providing key modern amenities. That’s necessary to get the historic tax credits that will make the projects possible.

Most of the homes average 1,000 to 1,100 square feet. The goal will be to sell them to owner-occupants — such as millennials and empty nesters — who will appreciate the condensed living space and other factors that make them historically unique.

The one-person household is the fastest growing household size in America,” said Kiser. “We’re mainly targeting singles and couples.”

Mill homes of the early 20th century here had a specific style. Authentically restoring their exteriors means reinstating original porches, chimneys, real wood clapboard siding, and chamfered columns with beveled corners.

It also means making sure each house has six-over-six-paned, divided light windows.

“Windows are a big thing in historic preservation,” Kiser said.

Buyers will have much more leeway on what they can do inside the homes. And on the outside, they’ll also have options on color schemes, albeit nothing too garish.

“All of these mill homes were white with brown or black trim,” said Kiser. “We will redevelop these with some nice color options that fit in to the neighborhood.”

Preservation N.C. is redeveloping one of its mill village properties on Second Avenue as a model home with all the historic architectural bells and whistles. Kiser said they are hoping to partner with one or more real estate professionals who will help them to aggressively market the houses in the Charlotte region.

Similar projects within mill villages and blue-collar neighborhoods in Edenton, Burlington and Durham have been extremely successful.

“In every one of those cases, we have been able to dramatically increase property values in the neighborhood,” said Kiser.

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by Michael Barrett, Gaston Gazette, 6/10/2016